January 9, 2009

Water for Elephants

It's hard to remember a time in my life when I've felt more disheartened than I do right now. I've always been a glass-is-half-full kind of a person, a take charge of my emotions kind of gal who was never down or depressed for very long. Part of it---it not all of it--- is probably the by-product of having a total knee replacement July 23rd. Spending a couple of weeks depending on someone else was like seeing a preview of my life 10-15 years down the road when it's entirely possible I'll get shipped off to a nursing home with smelly residences, sticky floors, and where Jell-O is considered a major food group.

While I was immobile after the surgery I made the mistake of reading a bestseller titled "Water for Elephants" by Sara Gruen. It's a gritty, well-written novel about an old man in his early 90s living in a nursing home---physically at least---but mentally drifting in and out of memories of the days when he was young, naive and working for a circus that traveled from town to town by train. The descriptions of the condescending way some the staff at the nursing home treated him really hit home. How sad it is that someone can live a life as interesting as this old man's and yet be treated as if his simple desire to sit at a different dinner table from the one assigned him was too much to ask. To have your free will taken away in such little ways has got to break your spirit. At one point he spent a long time trying to get his wheelchair close to a window only to have a staff member come along and wheel him back to sit in front of the door to his room. I've never understood why nursing homes do that, line people up and down the hallways as if drooling down your chin as strangers walk by is some sort of treat.

It's been warm here in Michigan but I've been so cold that I'm wearing sweats all the time. Now if that doesn't make you look and feel old I don't know what does. I'm probably cool from the blood thinners I was on and the loss of blood. And this, too, shall pass. They tell me the extreme fatigue I feel will pass, too, but I wish I could curl up into a ball, sleep until 2008.

Physically, my knee is doing fantastic. I'm off the pain medications and driving again, still going to therapy and making good progress. But in the past few days I've developed hip pain. It's been a chronic problem off and on since my snow plowing days and has put me in the ER several times including once late last year. I don't need that again so I'll start the muscle relaxers again when I can get a refill tomorrow and hope to nip the hip pain the bud. I don't need to feel guilty over snapping at my husband, but I do. I hate telling him we can't go here or there because dealing with his wheelchair makes the pain worse. I don't need to feel this old! Someone, come hold my hand and tell me that I'll pull out of the funk I'm in.

The old man at the nursing home had a great ending. He escaped the nursing home to run away to a circus parked across the street. There he found an owner who loved his stories of the old days and who harbored him from the police when they came looking for the elderly run-way. So if you see an old man selling tickets at a circle, say "hi" to Jacob. At least in fiction the life can end as it should.

Jean Riva ©

P.S. I really did like this book. Its circus history was well researched and kept me turning the pages. I read it in three days. It did feel good to be reading again, even though it did make me sad in places due to my own health issues. At one time in my history I read 3-4 books a week as part of a review job I had at the time, but since my husband's stroke seven years ago I've read very little fiction.

painted by Adolph von Menzol


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